Draft EIR offers a peek at how proposed El Segundo desalination plant would work

After years of anticipation and mounting debate, the South Bay is getting its first look at the draft Environmental Impact Report for a $380 million ocean-water desalination plant proposed for El Segundo.

Megan Barnes | Daily Breeze | March 27, 2018 | Access Original

On Tuesday morning, the West Basin Municipal Water District posted the 1,000-page document on its website and announced April 25 and May 12 meetings for the public to weigh in on the project.

The Carson-based water wholesaler has spent more than 15 years and tens of millions of dollars researching desalination as a drought-proof source of drinking water for a region stretching from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

If approved by West Basin’s board of elected directors and a variety of regulatory agencies, the facility would be the first full-scale desalination plant in Los Angeles County, turning 20 million gallons of seawater a day into drinking water for the agency’s customers. Another 40 million gallons a day could be sold to other agencies.

Operation of the plant could begin in 2023, but the project is likely to face a legal challenge from environmentalists who oppose it.

A drought-proof supply

West Basin officials tout the desalination plant’s plans to use leading green technologies and serve as a responsible alternative to imported water. But opponents say it is bound to raise water rates and isn’t worth the potential harm to the environment.

The plant would be built on the site of the El Segundo Generating Station along Vista del Mar on the border of Manhattan Beach.

“The local project would provide approximately 11 percent of West Basin’s water demand, relieving pressure on the heavily constrained supply of imported water available to West Basin,” the report said. “The new water source would increase the overall water supply reliability, drought resiliency, local control and water security in the region.”

Its main components include membrane filtration and reverse osmosis systems and a seawater intake system using ultra-fine screens to prevent fish from getting sucked in. Brine produced by the desalination process would be dumped offshore and the drinking water would be hooked up to local water pipelines.

Four alternatives were also studied:

  • Not building the plant at all;
  • Building instead on the AES powerplant site in Redondo Beach;
  • Limiting production to only 10 million gallons of drinking water a day;
  • And bringing down the plant’s elevation to lower its visual profile.

Potential impacts

According to the report prepared by Los-Angeles based Environmental Science Associates, the only “significant and unavoidable” impacts from the project would be to air quality and noise levels during construction.

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the study found that the plant would have “less than significant” impacts if West Basin takes step to reduce them by using “state-of-the-art energy recovery and conservation technologies.”

West Basin officials would closely monitor greenhouse gas emissions, producing an annual report charting those levels and using as much renewable energy as possible.

The report also found “less than significant” impacts to fish that could potentially get sucked into the plant’s intake pipes or harmed when brine is dumped offshore.

The plant will use wedge wire screens as thick as a credit card to prevent them from getting pulled in.

To offset the loss of fish and larvae, West Basin would conduct a close, year-long study of marine life mortality caused by the plant’s operation to minimize impacts. West Basin would also perform habitat restoration or contribute fees to a state-improved mitigation program.

Public meetings

The two-month public comment period for the project ends May 25. Both input sessions will be held at Richmond Street Elementary School in El Segundo – April 25 from 6-9 p.m. and May 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The report can be viewed in person at West Basin’s Avalon Boulevard headquarters in Carson.

Surrounding cities that have withheld taking a stance, such as El Segundo and Redondo Beach, will formally weigh in.

Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach have already opposed the project. Inglewood gave conditional support if the project meets the latest green standards and if the desalinated water isn’t more expensive than imported water.

Bruce Reznik, executive director of L.A. Waterkeeper, one of the environmental organizations fighting the plant, said his group needs more time to review the document.

“Upon opening the EIR, we were immediately struck by the fact that all the ‘build’ alternatives are confined to ocean desalination. The EIR completely neglects other options, including conservation, expanding wastewater purification, stormwater capture and infiltration, and even brackish groundwater desalination,” he said. “These options are climate-friendly, less expensive, and more equitable — and they meet most of the basic project objectives. We have to ask West Basin why these options are ignored, in favor of expensive, energy-intensive ocean desalination.”

The draft EIR release comes weeks after West Basin grappled with revelations that its Board of Directors hired new general manager Patrick Sheilds without knowledge that he had settled a sexual harassment complaint from a former employee for $250,000.

At a closed-door meeting March 17, which drew no members of the public, the board decided not to take action in response to the information.